Lincoln alum makes history as Portland’s first black female fire chief

After+making+her+mark+at+Lincoln%2C+Sara+Boone+is+now+Portland%E2%80%99s+first+black+female+fire+chief.+She%0Ahas+held+the+position+for+the+last+six+months.

Photo courtesy of the Portland Fire Department

After making her mark at Lincoln, Sara Boone is now Portland’s first black female fire chief. She has held the position for the last six months.

By Archie Barnes, Lincoln High School - OR

In 1995, when Lincoln alumnus Sara Boone began her training with the Portland Fire Service, she was the first woman of color to join the force. Today, 25 years later, she remains the sole woman of color on a team of 730 working at the Portland Fire Department. 

Six months ago, Boone was promoted to Fire Chief, making her the first woman of color to reach that position in Portland. Her job is to oversee all 31 fire department facilities in Portland, making sure that training programs are running smoothly, budgets are being spent wisely and safety measures are being taken. 

Though the Portland Fire Department’s employees are predominantly white, race was never as big a barrier for Boone as gender, especially when going into a career associated with hyper-masculinity.

When she was at Lincoln, the possibility of becoming a firewoman had never even occurred to her. When meeting with her counselor for possible careers, the profession was barely considered. However, after majoring in education and becoming a student teacher in Portland, Boone found herself drawn to work with the fire department after a serendipitous conversation with a fire inspector. 

“What I learned is that when opportunity opens a door, don’t be afraid to walk through, even though you might not have ever seen that position in your future,” says Boone. “Whatever is going to be asked of me, I have faith in myself that what I need to learn, I will learn, and that any challenge that has been set before me, I won’t do alone.” 

Boone believes that her time at Lincoln influenced her decision to follow this career path, and that her involvement on the Lincoln track team gave her the strength to put mind over matter– something she believes is extremely important in her line of work. 

“In the early stages of being a firefighter, it pays well to be able to overcome the physical toll that jumping through burning buildings can take on you,” says Boone.

 But that’s not the most valuable lesson that she has learned as a firefighter. 

“It really comes down to how you build your relationships and how you are able to listen. That has helped me since day one,” says Boone. “Everybody is going to have a different opinion, they’re going to come from a different background, they’re going to have a different perspective, and when you’re trying to work as part of a team, you can’t just be the dominant, or the submissive. Collectively, in order for a team to succeed, everybody has to succeed.”  

For aspiring firefighters, or any students that are struggling with finding a future that’s right for them, Boone tells them to open their heart. 

“A lot of times people …  make decisions based on other people’s recommendations,” remarks Boone. “Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re not, but where I think we are out of sync is when we’re like, ‘should I do this,’ ‘should I not do this,’ kind of in conflict with your heart. And there’s a lot of struggle, but when you stop listening to others, and really focus on what draws you … that’s your internal compass telling you this is the path you should pursue.”

Boone also has no regrets about being a trailblazer in her field, urging others to do the same in areas they’re passionate about.

 “Don’t let race, gender, orientation, or however you identify stop you from going into a field that really speaks to your heart. Sometimes we create a social construct which creates a narrative of fear without giving people the chance to really know them. We can look at it as being the single black female stepping into a primarily dominant male and 90% white workforce, it would be like, ‘why would you choose that?’ But to me, that didn’t matter. What mattered was there was something captivating that was speaking to my heart. And that’s when I knew I was choosing a career that was in alignment to who I really wanted to be. And that was a public servant, and a firefighter.”

This story was originally published on The Cardinal Times on February 21, 2020.